July 22, 2014

Another system of consequences 1

I’m a firm believer in consequences. Children should know that certain undesirable behaviors will result in consequences, and well, you can read my detailed thoughts on that topic here.

Have you read that post? Because if you have, then you’ll probably agree with me that it’s pretty long, and not the easiest thing to implement. I really do believe it can be extremely effective, but it takes a thoughtful plan and a lot of consistency, and I’ll be the first to admit that consistency can be hard!

Maybe you’ve been with me for a while and you read that post back in May, and now it’s July, and you’re thinking, “Oh man. I totally meant to try it, but… well, the end of the school year came… and graduations… and summer camps… and Grandma’s… and vacation and… ah what summer is half over?! It takes too much planning and now it’s too late…”

No, no, my friend. It is not too late.

Maybe that was too big of a project and you weren’t ready to commit to something so involved. Okay, no problem. I am still all for the cause of parents training their children up, so I have an easier alternative for you. It is still very effective (I wouldn’t share it otherwise!), and I’m honestly not sure why I didn’t share it with you sooner. Maybe because that post was already 23 pages (…size 12. Times New Roman font. Without the pictures. Yeahforreal.).

Maybe it’s because I just forgot about it for a while, but thanks to an email correspondence with a reader, I remembered it, and thought you all might appreciate having this tool.

Maybe it’s because I always thought of this method as something reserved for special-needs students, because those are the only students I used it on. But now that I think of it, there’s no reason it can’t be used on any child. I didn’t do that, because it would be impractical to keep track of and because most of my students behaved quite well without it. Whenever I needed to create an individualized behavior plan for an individual, though, this was the system I used.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for a large number of students, the system of graduated consequences takes more planning/set up in the beginning, but is actually simpler to apply broadly once the system is established.

For an individual child, however, there is a simpler system of consequences that can be applied.

So what’s this other system?

It’s simple. It’s taking away stuff from the kid. Taking away something they like. Consistently. Every time they display a behavior that needs to stop.

It may sound mean, and isn’t nearly as fun as rewarding kids, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works. The kids actually don’t ever seem very upset about it– they know that the item at hand is a privilege, not a right. Also, I tell myself that it’s better for them in the long run. Maybe the kid loses half an hour of video game time today, but if that means he stops hitting people in the long run, I think it’s worth it. (And to be honest, I’m not the biggest video game fan out there, so to me, it’s kind of a double-win!)

Most of the time, the behavior plans I set up with this system have the following characteristics:

As a teacher, I usually have to confer with the parents first to find out what really matters to the student, and have the parents get on the same page as me so they can consistently follow-through with the consequences at home.

An example of negative reinforcement in the classroom

Let’s say I have a child with a habit of using offensive language. This child also happens to love video games. After meeting with the parents and making sure we’re all on the same page, I would have a chat with the child:

“All right, J, I need you to clean up your language at school. There are some words you really need to stop using at school. Do you know which words I’m talking about?” I ask.

“Um… the d-word… the s-h-word… the s-word…” he begins listing.

“Yep… and any other words you know I wouldn’t like,” I say, making sure he understands that any offensive words are on the no-list. “Do I need to go over them all or do you know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean,” he says, looking down.

“Great. Now. I’m going to help you clean it up. If we can get through a whole day without using any of those words, I’m going to give you a star here,” I say, showing him the reward sticker chart. “Every three stars means you get an extra 10 minutes of recess!”

“Ohh, sweeet!” he cries.

“Yep. It’s only going to be for a while, so don’t get too used to it. But it’s better than nothing, right? Cause, I mean, I shouldn’t have to reward you for something you should be doing anyway, right?”

“Right!” he says, enthusiastically.

“Okay. But there’s another side to this. You like video games, right? Well, I’ve spoken with your parents, and it looks like you get 30 minutes of video game time every day after school.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty normal,” he nods.

“Yeah, well, now it’s up to you to try to KEEP those 30 minutes a day. Each of these marbles stands for 5 minutes of video game time,” I say, showing him 6 marbles in my hand. “See these 6 marbles? This one stands for 5 minutes (drop the marble into the jar). Add this one to make 10. 15. 20. 25. 30. See? Each marble is 5 minutes, so you have 30 minutes total,” I explain, showing him the marbles.

Another system of consequences

I continue, “Each time I hear you use a bad word, I’m going to take one of these marbles away, and that means you lose 5 minutes of video game time that day. If you say two bad words in a row, that’s two marbles.”Take out two marbles and show them to him in your palm, “If you lost these two, how many minutes is that?”I let him do the math. 10 minutes.

“Let’s say I hear another bad word later. Then you lose another marble,” I say, removing another marble.

He watches, wide-eyed and anxious.

“How many minutes are left? That’s right, only 15 minutes. What if you say another one that day?” you ask, removing yet another marble, “Yep, only 10 minutes left. That’s just enough time to start a game and not really do much else. Does that sound like fun? No? Then you should really try to keep all of your marbles. How can you do that?”

“Not say bad words.”

“Yep. You gotta keep those words from coming out of your mouth,” I confirm. I drop all the marbles back into the jar, and explain that we are starting today.

You will find that your pockets are always full of marbles at first. (And you should definitely have some backup marbles, because they will get lost amongst your pockets… trust me.) But eventually, he’ll get the idea. It’s not so much about the actual video game time as it is watching you come over and take out the marble. It’s a powerful visual.

This is a super tangible way for the child to see the consequecnes of his (undesired action every single time. I remember hearing that this method of taking things away can be especially effective for students who struggle with focus/attention.

Isn’t that mean? I don’t want to take things away from my child.

Hm. Well, I will say, if it’s something the child has earned, such as extra recess time, I wouldn’t take that away. They are two separate things. I would want them to experience the joy of achieving their goal, and wouldn’t want to take away from that. However, if it’s a regular privilege that they don’t need or haven’t earned, such as video game time, TV time, allowance, dessert, etc., then I think it’s okay to use this. That’s just my personal opinion. If that doesn’t sit well with you, though, then you may want to skip this method.

Like I said before, I only used it for students with more extreme behavior issues, so if you don’t think such drastic measure is necessary, don’t do it. It does make more for you to keep track of, like taking out a timer and enforcing the time limit for video game time, etc. and in general, I don’t think we are looking for more things to keep track of in our lives. However, if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working, I think it’s worth giving this method a shot.

Which system should I use?

Well…it depends. Of course.

I’ll break down the differences for you with a table.

Graduated System of Consequences Take-Away System
Takes a detailed plan to start Takes very little planning to start
Can cover a broad spectrum of behaviors Usually focuses on very few behaviors
Appropriate for most children who respond to a reminder to behave appropriately. Appropriate for a child who requires a consequence that can be “felt” every time they make a poor choice.
Includes a couple of abstract “consequences,” such as a verbal warning and pulling a yellow card. Includes a tangible and visible consequence every time they make a poor choice.
Can work for a large number of students. Used for shaping an individual’s behavior. Hard to implement on a large scale.
Portable You’d have to carry tokens or marbles around with you everywhere to make it the most effective.
Requires a lot of consistency Requires a lot of consistency

So if you’re working with just one or two children, you may want to try using negative reinforcement. If you don’t want to carry tokens or marbles around, I guess you could keep a tally on a piece of paper or your phone or something and show that you’re deleting a virtual “token.” (I don’t think it would have quite the same effect, though.)

In the end, it’s just another tool for you to have handy in case your child develops a really nasty habit that you want to delete ASAP. I don’t think most children need it, but if you do use it and follow through well, it should be very effective!

See more of my thoughts on How to Shape Children’s Behavior.

2 responses to “An Alternative (and Easier) System of Consequences”

  1. Chelsea says:

    I’ve been using a modified version of take-away consequences quite effectively with my two-year-old. It is definitely more simplified than your method above, but the same idea of taking away a non-essential thing to quell a bad behavior.

    For example, my son likes to turn his sippy cup upside down and bang it on the table to make the liquid come out. He is told up front that this behavior is not ok, and the consequence of doing it is losing his cup. He gets one reminder/warning, and then the second time, the cup is removed and put away. The item is returned later, and we try again.

    The key for us is to not make it an emotional thing. The consequences are laid down in a matter-of-fact way and enforced without anger or emotion. When I remove the object, I calmly remind him that he was told what the consequence was and continued the behavior despite my warning, so the consequence is being enforced. I have actually noted a decrease in tantrums and bad behavior when clear boundaries and consequences are established and enforced consistently.

    • joellen says:

      That’s great! That sounds a lot like my original post on consequences. Love it!